Saturday, July 13, 2019

Lofoten Islands, Norway

Almost 2.5 years since my last post here. I won't give an excuse about being busy, because to me, it's all about priorities. I will be more straightforward, I haven't updated this blog in more than 2 years since the motivation to write escaped me :( .

The past few days, I am glad that the inspiration to share the joys of exploring our wonderful world found me again. I typed some whenever I got the chance. I stopped when I had to. No pressure in finishing one post all at once. And I tell you, typing my thoughts here very slowly feels like freedom as well! It's one of life's simple joys that went back! Yey!! This post was started a few months back, only that it took like forever to finish, haha!

In this post, I am sharing our trip to Lofoten Islands back in July 2018.
the town of Reine in Moskenes, Lofoten Islands ( it’s a very peaceful and inspiring nature escape) 

So, what made me decide to go to Lofoten Islands? It's a very common question asked whenever I travel. I actually don't really have a bucket list of places to see. I am the type who prefer to stay present in the moment. When I am home, I usually do the things that I find more relaxing and where I feel some sense of rejuvenation. These includes hiking and the ocean. I just find that the more time I spend in nature hiking, or in the ocean tidepooling, body surfing, or snorkeling, I find more inner peace and deep contentment. There is always that un-explainable joy whenever I am out there exploring our natural world. With nature, I find our best teacher and God-sent healer. It is for that reason, that whenever I plan out a vacation, I center it around nature. Around two of my most favorite activities: HIKING AND/OR THE OCEAN. I find both activities help strengthen me physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. If hiking, it has to be somewhere cooler, since my asthma, rhinitis and migraine usually bothers me when it is hot and humid. My ideal exploring temperature is 60s and 70s F( 16-24 C), but for hiking, I prefer 50s and 60s (10-20 C).

Now, about hiking and the ocean, Lofoten Islands is one of the best and most beautiful places in the world to go hiking surrounded by the ocean in a cooler setting being in the North Arctic.  😄  Somehow, when both hiking and the ocean are combined, I feel I am at the top of the world in terms of happiness and joyfulness. And yes, when we were at Lofoten, the feeling was indeed like being on top of the world! 😄
Me, on top of one of the ridges during our hike to Mannen. Below me is the Haukland Beach.

A Lofoten summer vacation can't be done without planning ahead and making advanced reservation in accommodations unless you are more than prepared to sleep in a car or put up a tent somewhere. Our trip was July, yet, I already made reservations around January. By late March, I tried to modify our reservations, but I couldn't. Places were fully booked. This situation has its pros and cons. Pro: it's not crowded, since the crowd is limited by the small number of accommodation in the area. Con: quite expensive because of a lack of competition. I used both Expedia and Booking in making hotel/lodging and car rental reservations.

Here is our itinerary in Lofoten Island ( I will have more detailed descriptions of our hikes in separate posts later):

Day 1
* Arrival in Moskenes via ferry from Bodo.

The Town of Reine in Moskenes, one of my first sights of Lofoten Island

** Did some sightseeing drive, lunch, then, hiked Ryten- our first hike in Lofoten.  For me, the Ryten hike has no destination, every step was a destination. 😄 We started from the ocean, passed through several lakes on our way up, then, we reached Mt. Ryten's peak overlooking the ocean at the other side of the mountain. Near the peak, there’s a nice resting place for us to rest our legs above Kvalvika Beach. See pictures below.
Sights from our Ryten Hike, what's below that rock is not a lake, it's Kvalvika Beach, we were just right above the Norwegian Sea

 ** Checked in at our rorbue in Sorvagen. What is a rorbue? They are fisherman cabins or seaside huts before, but with the shift to tourism,  they were converted into by the water lodging and hotels.
Lofoten's Rorbus in Sorvagen

*** Dinner after checking in at Maren Anna ( ahhh, it's not only the sights that are awesome in Lofoten, so are their freshest sea foods and freshly picked vegetables, and so yummy desserts ). 
Lofoten's yummy foods at Maren Anna, Sorvagen ( the musselss and fish are the best I had, and I've been eating fish and mussels since I was a kid, :), the juiciness and freshness are really one of a kind )

**** rest for the night, zzzzz. On our first night at Lofoten, we experienced summer storm, the rain was very heavy and the wind was howling like crazy. Thankfully, we already had settled for the night when the storm started. Perhaps, it was the heavy downpour or our afternoon hike, that made us sleep really well. Actually, I find hiking really helps in clearing my mind and preparing me for a good night sleep. Plus of course, that NATURE IS HEALING is backed up by research.  

Day 2
      We woke up with some light rain for our second day. Thankfully, the rain wasn't as heavy and the wind wasn't as howling as the night before. We were supposed to start our hike to Munken as early as possible because it is a long hike. We were told at the rorbuhotel we were staying in to let the storm pass first and wait for maybe 2-3 hours after the storm to allow the rocks and chain to dry. Otherwise, the hike would be very slippery and dangerous since some of the ascent would be in chain assisted rocky slope. We love our life and the life of others ( we don't want to endanger others lives in trying to rescue us), so we heeded the advise.
       So, what  could you do in Lofoten when it is raining? During the rain, we spent some time in Norwegian Fishing Village Museum in the town of Ao, which is just about 3 kms or less from our accommodation in Sorvagen. Ao is actually the last letter of the Norwegian alphabet, coincidentally or purposefully, it is also at the end of the E10 road. E10 is the road that connects the many islands from North to South of Lofoten that even extends up to Troms. The museum is an outdoor museum. We explored the outside exhibits when the rain stopped, and we took shelter in any of its 6 historical buildings when rain poured. The setting made us understand the life at Lofoten's Fisheries. There was also a bakery that sells freshly made bread and cinnamon rolls, and oh, they were really so yummy! I couldn't count how many cinnamon rolls I had over several cups of coffee while exploring the outdoor museum. :) The smell of the cinnamon rolls were THAT inviting.
Norwegian Fishing Village Musem, Ao, Lofoten Islands

The museum helped us understand that Lofoten is not just about dramatic mountain peaks, beautiful blue fjords, sparkling white sand beaches, but is about a major fishing village where probably most of the world has benefited!!
Air Dried Fish Heads at the town of A, Lofoten Islands

Despite being tucked above the arctic circle, Lofoten's winter temperature ranges only between 0-5 C because of the convergence of Gulf stream, North Atlantic current and Norwegian current. 0-5 C is the perfect temperature for freeze drying. It is not sub-freezing to freeze the fish into pieces that will prevent it from drying. It is also not too warm to rot the fish. The fish is simply air dried without adding salt. Italy, Spain, Portugal are some of the main importers of their dried fish (body) which is a main kitchen staple, whereas Nigeria is the main importer of the dried fish heads, used in their spicy soup. The world's richest cod fishing takes place in Lofoten every winter. There's too much to learn in Lofoten Islands.

Aside from visiting the Fishing Museum, we also explored the towns of A, Moskenes, Reine and Hamnoy. These towns are really very close to each other that it is not uncommon to see someone walking on the road to go from town to town. We didn't go further from Hamnoy, because we were hoping to start our hike to Munken 2-3 hours after the last rain stopped. Hamnoy is just about 10 km from Sorvagen, where the trailhead for Munken hike is. One of my favorite finds on that day was the thick wild lupine field in between Sorvagen and Reine. We sure had a wonderful time taking pictures with the wildflowers.
 Filed of Wild Lupines and Rugged Mountain Peaks
Lupines Up Close. Imagine enjoying this wide field of wild lupines to yourself. Even though lodging in Lofoten was fully booked but because of limited accommodation, you can enjoy the quietness. The archipelago is vast enough for the number of visitors it host. 

You may think that we were in the mountains in the two pictures above. However, we were actually by the ocean shore. See picture below.
looking at the other direction, across the wild lupine field is the Norwegian Sea

This is the very reason why Lofoten Islands is very special to me because I was enjoying both rugged mountain peaks and the ocean. Added to that, the many fjords and lakes we could see when we would hike up. It was a wonderland for me for sure where everywhere I turned, my eyes and heart were treated with such beautiful sights. Some places may also be beautiful, but the serenity and natural beauty is lost to the huge crowd. Despite a popular destination for nature and adventure lovers, Lofoten's limited accommodations doesn't allow for big crowds. The sense of adventure isn't lost because you feel the remoteness, yet, the sense of safety doesn't escape either, because you know you're just close to town. At the trail, you'd see hikers once a while, but not too often. One of the things I love about hiking is seeing the kindness and thoughtfulness of other hikers. It's like we have each other as cheer and support system.

About noontime, the weather cleared. Even though we couldn't wait to start our hike to Munken as soon as the rain stopped, but we followed the advise to start the hike 2-3 hours after the last rainfall, to allow the rocks and chains to dry. Once we were on the trail, we were thankful we heeded the advise, since we could not imagine doing the hike when the rocks and chain are wet. Indeed, it would be very slippery, and yes, dangerous. Of course, because it was just after the storm, the hike was extra muddy :( , but the mud didn't pose danger to the hike.
The Beautiful World Up Munken Trail

Perhaps a trademark of Lofoten's hikes, the trailhead is by the ocean, the soil is boggy and wet if not overly muddy, the slopes are steep, really steep, you have to navigate through rocks, waterfalls and lakes are everywhere, and it is SOOO green, hard to believe you are in the high arctic.

Again, I will share more details of this hike and the other hikes we did in Lofoten in separate posts later.

Day 3
* Checked out from our rorbue in Sorvagen to explore the Northern part of Lofoten Islands at Svolvaer. Svolvaer is  actually just 2 hours away from Sorvagen. It is doable to just drive up there to explore then go back to Sorvagen in one day, like what other visitors to Lofoten would do.  However for us, it doesn't make sense to go back South because our next place to explore is Svalbard, the northernmost town closest to the North Pole. There are only 2 airports that serve Svalbard, they are: Oslo (South) and Tromso (North). Because Svolvaer is already close to Tromso, we decided to break our stay in Lofoten, 2 nights in South area ( @ Sorvagen, where we can just walk to the trailhead of Munken ) and 2 nights in Svolvaer ( North). Our car rental drop off  was at our hotel in Svolvaer because we would be taking the bus from Svolvaer to Tromso.

Sod Roof with grass and flowers  ( ahh, we couldn't get enough of the relaxing sights and laid back atmosphere in the southern region of Lofoten, Moskenesoya )
Moskenesoya or southern Region of Lofoten Islands, water is so clear you can see what is underneath even from very far

Despite it was hard leaving Moskenesoya, we were also excited at the same time to see what else does Lofoten have.

**Our first exciting find was Ramberg Beach. It is a white sand beach with sparkling clear water surrounded by wildflowers! SPARKLING WHITE SAND BEACH + WILDFLOWERS =  HEAVEN. Who would think we were North of the Arctic Circle?
So overjoyed on seeing this, really an unexpected delight. Ramberg Beach, Lofoten Islands. 

Don't ask us how long we stayed at Ramberg beach! We were just like kids who couldn't believe what we found! A tropical looking beach right in the middle of the North Arctic! With added sights of wildflowers. Between wildflowers and the beach, we played on the water more, I guess, the thought of swimming in North Arctic waters was ooooooh so exciting for us! Haha!

The whole area of Lofoten Islands is really like heaven on Earth. We kept on stopping to take in the amazing scenery in front of us. Thankfully, there aren't that many cars on Lofoten's road, so no one would honk on us if we were driving slow to enjoy the scenery. We were just not pressed for time to get to our next destination. We simply enjoyed every sights we saw along the way! Thankfully, the mood was like that. The people inside the cars that would pass us when we stopped, also had those smiling faces, waving at us, kind of saying, "enjoy your stop!" Then, we'll pass by them because they too stopped somewhere. It was like, pick your place to stop, enjoy the amazing scenery in front of you.

***After  Ramberg beach, we went to another beach closer to Leknes at Haukland Beach. Haukland Beach is one of the more popular beaches in Lofoten Islands. For us, however, Ramberg Beach was so much more joyful to play in and so much more scenic. So, we did not do much water activity at Haukland Beach, instead, we went hiking up its slopes, to Mannen Peak.
Living the Life: Hiking and the Ocean! Haukland Beach  from Mannen Peak

**** Haukland Beach + Mannen hike was really worth our detour and stop in Leknes area  instead of going all the way to Svolvaer! If I see the hikes in Lofoten Islands as having no destination because every step of the way is a scenic destination by itself, I can say the same for the drive.

After the hike at Mannen, we cooled down at Haukland Beach and went tidepooling as well. Somehow, if I am by the ocean, playing in the sand and surf is not enough, I also have to check the tidepool! I'm always interested with what creatures thrive in different seas.
Tidepool at Haukland Beach

 ***** Late lunch / early dinner at Leknes.

****** Drove straight to Svolvaer. I guess either we were tired from exploring or we found the scenery between Leknes and Svolvaer not as scenic compared to the scenery between Moskenes and Leknes, that we didn't have many stops anymore driving from Leknes to Svolvaer.

******Checked in at our hotel in Svolvaer. Thankfully, our car rental drop off is right by at our hotel, and the bus we would be taking to Tromso, is just a few steps from the hotel. So convenient.

Day 4
You know, there were 2 activities I lined up for this day, Djevelporten and Floya hike + Sea Eagle Safari. I guess, I was too ambitious, find out why in the video below! 😂

After a very good breakfast, we started our hike right from our hotel. Because we already dropped off our car, we have to go around by foot. I just didn't see the need to pay for another day of car rental, when, we would be spending most of our day hiking and exploring, both activities don't need a car. The trailhead for our hike is about 1 mile from our hotel. It was such a joyful and beautiful walk, passing through the harbor, and their roads which are lined with giant wild lupines. The trailhead wasn't hard to find at all, it was right after the cemetery. There were very nice ferns that greeted us once inside the trail, they were just so beautiful.

After a few minutes of easy trail ( just muddy I guess from the storm we had on night 1 and day 2), the trail became more rocks. Some parts have chain to assist in the climb, but others, you have to use your critical thinking which rock to scramble. It was fun, like solving puzzle. After a while however, I felt my hands were getting tired from rock scrambling, using chain and ropes. I guess I was too spoiled in most of the trails in US where hike up is made easier by well groomed trail. Add to that, when we were about 1/4 of our hike, it drizzled. We didn't turn around since we were prepared for the light rain, but we did slow down to be safe. Thankfully, the drizzling didn't last long. After the rock scrambling, it was mud challenge. Again, we had to use our judgement which way to go so we won't get stuck in deep mud. Some, who were not prepared for the hike ( muds and rocks), turned back, saying they will be back with better shoes ( waterproof, otherwise, the water from all the mud can soak your feet and would cause not only blister but also a slippery walk).
Pictures from our Djevelporten Hike

Anyway, I underestimated the time needed for this hike, because I failed to consider the rock+mud challenge. In short, we were not able to catch the last sea eagle safari which was at 2 pm. I thought I reserved the best for last, that is a fjord cruise in Norway's narrowest fjord with lots of sea eagles. Ahh, I think that gives me a reason to go back to Lofoten some other time.

After the hike, we just enjoyed a very good lunch, and because we were in Lofoten Islands, we really took advantage of their yummy sea foods. After lunch, we just walked around Svolvaer

Day 5:
* Checked out.
**Took the bus to Tromso.
The bus ride was very relaxing for me, it was like the needed break after 4 days of hiking and the hiking on ice that will follow in Svalbard. 😄 We passed through really beautiful scenery that we learned there's really so much to explore in Lofoten and the rest of Norway.
Taking a bus from Svolvaer to Tromso, was like being on a tour. Couldn't get enough of the scenery. What's good with being on a bus is that the bus is tall enough to take a picture without being blocked by the low lying bushes when we were on our rental car. I do not know where this is, but this was taken from our bus ride from Svolvaer in Lofoten Islands to Tromso

This concludes our trip to Lofoten Islands. Our next major Norway destination was Svalbard. I will be writing about our experiences and itinerary in Svalbard at a later post. Svalbard is the northernmost town closest to the North Pole. Hopefully, it won't take me another 2.5 years to share the next post, which I believe would be Svalbard. The hikes, I will write more about them, much later.

How to go to Lofoten:
To go to Lofoten Islands, we had to fly to Oslo, Norway. During the booking process, I tried San Diego- Leknes, and the cost of flight is 'FORGET IT"- very steep. It would be so much cheaper for us to book San Diego- Oslo first. Besides, San Diego- Leknes would also have a lot of stop-over, if not more.

From Oslo, we had two options: 1. fly to Lofoten directly via Leknes or Svolvaer or 2. fly to Bodo, then, take the ferry from Bodo to Moskenes. With careful research, I chose the latter for three reasons: 1. final destination in Lofoten which is Moskenes, 2. cost (flying to Bodo then taking the ferry is cheaper than flying to Leknes and or Svolvaer) and 3. scenery (the 3-hr boat ride is like taking a short cruise, seeing the majestic rocky outcroppings jut out steeply from the sea was building our excitement on what's ahead of us).

As you can see above, to reach Lofoten wasn't that easy, but it's so worth it. We had to spend one night in Oslo, then, another night in Bodo. However, I didn't see those required nights to spend in two cities as an ordeal, but as added joy of additional exploring. In between flights and boat ride, we took the time to explore the two cities: Oslo and Bodo. I will touch on these two cities later in separate posts.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

La Jolla Before the Storm

Before the storm kicked in yesterday, I was able to enjoy the clouds rolling in and the raging waves. Below is a video I made, using the mobile app "Splice".


And here are some pictures from yesterday.....

someone wants to get wet :)
feel the power of the waves
raging waves

Friday, October 14, 2016

Life Is Always Wonderful

What I love about taking a walk outside is to see we live in such a wonderful world 

Friday, August 05, 2016

Alaska 2016

Some collage I made for a quick share of pictures during our 9 days vacation in Alaska last month.
Bears at Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park

some sights from our stay in Valdez, AK
Glaciers and Wildlife in Valdez, AK
Hiking at Lion's Head, Matanuska Valley
Root Glacier Hike, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, AK ( unguided )

Last 2011, on our first time to Alaska, we did the guided glacier hike on Matanuska Glacier. Our guide did very well in teaching us how to hike safely on ice, that we felt confident that we could do it on our own applying all the safety procedures she shared, and perhaps, be even more conservative. After our first guided hike last 2011, we decided to get some gears for icy hiking, which we also used for winter hiking in the mountains. Our very first unguided glacier hike was in Canada 2014. Then, on this trip, we did several glacier hikes on our own.

What I like most about unguided glacier hiking is that I'm free to go where I want to, I can spend more time for photography, and I'm free to look for features I wanted to see. It may take us more time to look for interesting features, but I believe it adds more to the fun of being able to explore on our own, SAFELY, of course. 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Surprised By a Grizzly Bear

When we were in Valdez, we usually started our day with a light breakfast, then, we would go to Solomon Gulch for some bird ( mostly bald eagles ) photography.
Bald Eagle, Valdez, Alaska
By 8:30 am, we would leave the area to have our heavier breakfast to fuel our major activities of the day, such as hiking and kayaking.
One of those mornings, we were surprised by a grizzly bear. We saw some kids running on the road following the bear as the bear crossed the road to go down to the water. We were at the other side of the stream. The sight of kids running followed by adults was scary since that is one of the biggest no-no when you see a bear, "DON'T RUN", or you'll scare/surprise the bear. That's when bears may attack humans, for offense is their defense.
However, the bear didn't mind the running kids and some adults at all. The bear just continued to go down to the water. 
Grizzly Bear, Valdez, Alaska
The bear was made very busy by flocking sea gulls blocking her way to the water. She would shoo the sea gulls to clear her way to the water to get salmon. She'd finish one salmon very quickly then go back to the water to get another one.

Why do the bears in Valdez and other coastal areas do not mind humans at all, unlike the bears in inland mountains? Because of so many salmons. In between us and the bear, was a stream overcrowded by salmons, where it seemed very easy for the bears and sea lions to get their food.

The sea gulls? They most of the time flock around sea lions and bears to feast on their left overs. Perhaps, another reason why bears do not mind humans at all at the other side of the shore is because the sea gulls are too much for them already to shoo away so they can enjoy their fish.

Exit Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park

Exit Glacier is one of the 38 glaciers that flow out from Harding Icefield. The name Exit Glacier was derived from the first recorded crossing of the Harding Icefield in 1968 which exited in this glacier.If the hike to the end of trail of Harding Icefield is strenuous, the hike to Exit Glacier is easy to moderate. After hiking Harding Icefield, we took the much easier trail to Exit Glacier terminus.
Surface of Exit Glacier
The trail to Exit Glacier is only a 1 mile loop, though it has uphill/downhill slope, but not as steep nor as rocky as Harding Icefield trail making the walk a lot smoother and easier. In just a matter of minutes from the trailhead, you will be face to face with a glacier.
A Stream of Water Falling From the Melting of Glacier
Like many of the low altitude glaciers, Exit Glacier is steadily melting.You will hear the sound of the many waterfalls falling from the melting of ice when you come close to a glacier. The Exit Glacier has shrank 2 miles for the past 200 years.
Glacier Waterfalls 
If you are planning for a trip to Alaska, I really highly recommend putting Seward where Kenai Fjords National Park is in your list to visit. If you are physically fit and won't give up on physical and mental challenge, the hike to Harding Icefield is really out of this world and very mentally, emotionally and spiritually rewarding. However, if you think you cannot make it to Harding Icefield, the easy to moderate 1 mile loop hike to Exit Glacier is still very much worth it. 
Unlike the trail to Harding Icefield, the trail to Exit Glacier is almost free of rocks and snow during summer, and can be accessed even by some with disabilities. I am always happy to see this kind of trail since it allows and opens up our natural world to others who may not be able to take strenuous hikes because of physical reasons or because of having little babies in the family. 
One of the Many Tubes at Exit Glacier
The Exit Glacier shows many hollow tubes, and for me, these are the natural warning signs that we take extra pre-caution when we are in front or hiking in a glacier. The glacier is unsteady and parts of it can crumble anytime. Some may get tempted to have a picture inside the tube, but what if the ice above crash and you get buried? I have seen and heard a glacier crumbled, it is a phenomena that I will never forget. It is both inspiring and sad. Inspiring to see how nature carved the Earth and sad to observe how everything on Earth is temporary. 
In my next posts, I will show the other side of Harding Icefield.
Exit Glacier from Harding Icefield Trail
At the other side of this 4000 ft thick of ice and 700 square miles of icefield is the ocean. It is kind of hard to imagine that this vast mountain of ice sits right next to the sea, and everyday is changing.